December 22, 2014

What Robert Motherwell Said…

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This is the tenth, and last, in a series of posts taking you back through a history of my work, from its very realistic roots and on to my abstracts (see previous posts Why Aren’t My Paintings PRETTY For God’s Sake , So You Think Artists Are Lazy?, Stripped Down and Broken Open: Giving Birth to Art , Of Transitions and the Place Between, An Uncomfortable But Compelling Push-Pull, New Mexico Isn’t for Sissies,  The Dark Horse Series,  The Art of Becoming and A World of Blue). This exploration was spurred on by a reader’s question about my process and inspiration, particularly of my New Mexico horse abstracts. Little did she or I know what her simple query was about to open. I hope you all are enjoying this art journey into the past as much as I am. It is showing me, for the first time, the trajectory of my work, and is going a long way toward pointing me to future paintings.

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What Robert Motherwell Said

I set out walking. There is no other way of putting it. I walked and walked, taking in this new place I called home. It was a need, a sort of walking meditation, that soothed something deep inside me. And it filled me with a sense of place, of heritage. It introduced me to the people that went before–the ancients who had lived high up on the mountain, above the timberline, the Indians who’d crossed the pass I see out my windows, over the Peaks from the plains, heading down to the river valley, the Spanish colonists who’d carved their village out of this forbidding soil with nothing more than fire-hardened wood tools. I saw evidence of their lives: the piles of rock winnowed from their fields, the fallen down log structures, occasional pottery sherds and tools.

And their fences–many of them very old–patched and repaired so many times they’d become their own art form. This photo by my friend, Craig Scogin, illustrates perfectly what I mean:

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These boundary lines made of stick and steel and barbed wire, wrapped round with discarded bailing wire…

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… the fences that, admittedly, changed this landscape forever and not necessarily for the good…

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… from open grazing land shared by all, to the decidedly “American” idea of ownership that arrived with the railroad…

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… the red willow rising up through them…

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… were beautiful to me and so became the inspiration for one of my earlier pieces (titled Life’s Yearning), in the next body of work, as shot by my good friend, Kevin Hulett here…

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… and here…

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Then, from seemingly nowhere but, of course, springing from all those walks out on the llano…

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… taking in the fences…

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… the grasses…

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… the sun casting shadows…

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… and the majesty and mystery of the land itself, the utter distances, the perspective…

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… this painting was born. It was the kind of painting experience I’m sure many of you have had where we watch the brush in our hands, moving across the canvas, creating things we had no idea of. Rather like Robert Motherwell’s famous thought, “In the brush doing what it’s doing, it will stumble on what one couldn’t do by oneself.” Yes, it was like that.

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And this piece…

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… gave birth to an extensive body of work that I like to call my Gray and Whites…

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… and which dear Bill Franke, who represents me at Hand Artes Gallery here in Truchas, prefers to call Truchas Modernism. I rather like that but could never call my own work anything quite so grand, so I am grateful to Bill who does.

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These paintings not only represent the grasses and fences against the snow, they are also meant to convey the bright New Mexico sunlight that bleaches color from the landscape leaving only contrast, only shadow and light.

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It is this same intense bright light, casting its long, deep shadows, turning the fields and pastures into flat stretches of white, that has bleached the color out of my work. I’m not sure if it will ever return. Only time will tell.

The following three pieces, meant to illustrate that sun shining on buckskin grasses, also bring in the element of irrigation. Here in New Mexico the villagers have brought water to their fields through a system of acequias, or ditches, for centuries. The acequias in Truchas were dug in the mid 1700s and have been maintained over the years by the whole town coming together in the spring to clean and repair them. The use of this water is managed by a mayordomo who dictates when and for how long the water may be used. When a farmer is granted permission to open his gates, the fields are flooded with a flat lake of water.

These paintings represent the sun shining on flooded fields, creating a sort of reflecting mirror to the bright sky. Transitional pieces, they are announcing that there is something new waiting to be born. I don’t know what it is yet but I look forward to finding out.

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Love to you all,


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